A father has been sentenced to prison for contempt of court after disobeying orders to return his daughter from Poland.
In Sanchez v Oboz, the father had kept the now three year-old girl with him in Poland following a holiday last summer, and the mother launched proceedings for the return of her daughter. To date, he has not done so.
The mother alleged that the father had breached two return orders made by the courts last August. Last month, High Court, Mr Justice Cobb took what he described as the “unusual course” of hearing the mother’s application for the father’s committal to prison in his absence. He did so, amongst other considerations, because he was satisfied that the father been served the relevant court documents and had been given adequate time to prepare. He had also not given reason for their failure to attend.
The man’s own father, the girl’s grandfather, who was also involved in the case.
The Judge found the father to be in breach of both the orders made last August but sentencing was adjourned until March so that “the father could avail himself of representation, further giving him the opportunity to return Isabella to the jurisdiction.”
At a subsequent hearing this week, Mr Justice Cobb noted that the multiple attempts had subsequently been made to serve the father with documents relating to the ruling – by post, email, courier and even social media.
The mother’s solicitor also attempted to speak to the father by telephone but he hung up.
Had the three year-old been returned since the February hearing, said the Judge, “I would have been able to take into account on the question of sentence.”
He declared that the toddler had been habitually resident (resident for legal purposes) in England and Wales prior to “her unlawful retention in Poland in the summer 2014.”
Retention of the child in the country had been “emotional abuse” insisted the Judge, depriving her of her relationship with her mother.
The father had been “defiant” he continued, and had not taken advantage of the opportunity presented by the adjourned hearing to return his daughter or offer mitigation for his behaviour to the court.
The Judge concluded:
“A sentence of 12 months imprisonment reflects the intrinsic gravity of the father’s breaches and marks the disapproval of this Court.”
The judgement is available here.
Photo of Warsaw by Alina Zienowicz via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence